In Honor Of His Birthday, We Celebrate The Life Of Ryan DeWitt
September 16th is Ryan DeWitt’s birthday.
Ryan DeWitt is a beloved figure among most of the improbably sprawling, blessed tapestry of people who had the pleasure of knowing him over the course of his life.
Since early June 2015, Ryan is both sadly missed and warmly remembered, in near equal measure. On this day, which would have been his 41st Birthday, it feels fitting to empasize the “warmly remembered” side of the coin. Because anyone who knew Ryan even a little bit can likely still hear his inimitable laugh and in doing so feel its infectiousness. We all continue to recall his joyful spirit and generous nature.
So on September 16th, or whenever you happen to be perusing the contents of this page, let me be the first to wish you a “Happy DeWitt Day”.
Hopefully this can in some small way be a reflection of the love-light Ryan Graham DeWitt shined, which so brightened the lives of his family and all his friends who considered him family. Hopefully a few who didn’t know Ryan may even feel like they did a little bit after finishing this. Hopefully anyone who falls on either side of those two camps does feel welcome and comfortable enough to contribute their own thoughts, pictures, videos, etc in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
In the digital age, nothing is ever truly ‘done’. This particular piece especially, much like its author, should still be considered very much a “work in progress”. This is not my life's work, nor does it belong to me. This is a living and breathing testament to the life of Ryan DeWitt, which means that anybody who comes in love are more than welcome to join the party. Thanks to all the people who helped this piece get to this point. Thanks in advance to all of those who will aid in adding to its contents in the future. And thanks most of all to the beautiful soul who inspired its existence.
We love and miss you always.
We salute you on your born day. We pay tribute to your memory by doing our best to spend your birthday in the fashion you would have wanted and so often helped us do: enjoying life while laughing long and hard.
September 16th, 1975: A Subterranean Superstar Is Born
It feels a little bit funny performing a public tribute to Ryan, not because he doesn’t absolutely deserve one but because as one of his oldest and best friends since childhood, John Lacy, so accurately surmised when approached about that plan taking shape:
“Bomb, I am stoked to know you’re putting a remembrance on your blog, as he would be so happy and embarrassed at the same time. He liked to hide behind the scenes...”
Indeed, Ryan was the polar opposite of a self-promoter. No one I know can recall a time where he really brought up any of his personal accomplishments or him ever acknowledging any shred of celebrity status.
Yet he was a star in every circle in which he navigated. Which was more circles than most of us could ever hope to venture into over the course of two or three lifetimes. This was a man whose travels, personally and professionally while working in the skateboarding industry for over two decades, took him quite literally around the world several times over and into countless foreign countries, while his footprints have marked the soil of 49 out of the 50 states in the U.S.
How many other people do you know that you could say that about?
Who else do you know whose memorial services spanned two coasts and two weekends with a combined attendance that reached somewhere between 600-800 including one friend who traveled from Japan to Jersey on 48-hour notice for the funeral service?
Who has a West Coast Memorial that ends up being held at the headquarters of one of Southern California’s largest apparel companies (Stance, the official sock-supplier of the NBA & MLB) for whom he never actually worked?
A man whose employer at the time of his passing, the legendary Vans brand, made sure to print up their own line of shirts to be passed out for free to all the guests at said event?
How about someone whose first day at a new job has been immortalized in hilarious, hind-sighted YouTube infamy by an eventual friend, who also happens to be one of the stars of MTV’s Jackass series and subsequent feature films?
What other guy besides Ryan could inspire his previous long-time employer, Element Skateboards, to produce a promotional video for the brand based around a non-actor/behind-the-scenes employee entitled “DATE WITH DEWITT”?
Have his too-brief-for-our-liking life commemorated posthumously by every major print and online skateboard industry staple (Thrasher Magazine, Transworld, Skate Daily, NY Skateboarding, etc.) possible?
Inspire large groups of friends to donate funds plus some prime summer weekends of their time in 2016 to build a trail dedicated in his honor at the Cape May Point Bird Observatory in honor of one of Ryan’s favorite hobbies (bird watching)?
As his mother and his aunt told me in a private huddle following the elaborate series of tributes and testimonials to Ryan held at Stance headquarters last summer:
“We didn’t know Ryan was famous”.
Which is true, we really and truly didn’t.
Yet at the same time, we sorta always did.
II. The Natural Mystic Flowing Thru DeWitt
While we’ve established Ryan collected friends from all corners of the globe the way a penny-pincher might collect coupons, Ryan was also very much a naturalist. He had a passion not just for bird-watching but also fishing, canoeing, hiking and basically any other activity that involved him observing and communing with nature. The only sports he ever really displayed any passion for as we were growing up involved himself, some type of board (skate, snow or surf) and the elements around him. Depending on the day that habitat could vacillate between any one of the earth’s three major oceans, some steep snow-filled mountains or the considerably tighter terrain found on a ramp or some concrete stairs with a railing.
I first met Ryan when we were both six years old, Ryan my senior by about six months. It was the springtime, our inaugural year of Little League. His face in the team photo you see above fairly accurately displays Ryan’s level of interest in playing the sport. Although to his credit, he did make that season’s highlight reel catch on a fly ball he came charging in for from the outfield to the edge of the infield dirt to field. The headfirst diving snag was doubly shocking due to who made the play.
Unlike Ryan, myself and Ryan’s siblings, older brother Andrew and younger brother Greg, loved baseball growing up. Still it was a sport Greg & I had abandoned by our mid-to-late-teens. Andrew lasted longer, even mounting an unlikely comeback in his late twenties as a walk-on on the Rutgers University baseball team while finishing up some credits for his degree. Yet even Andrew’s time with the sport feels relatively short compared to Ryan, who continued to ride boards of all sorts for his entire life.
Much like with his career, Ryan found a way to make his childhood passions and love for nature into things he could carry along with him throughout his extensive travels.
Gerrit Kemps: It was with great pleasure and much inspiration to spend the better part of a year living with Ryan in Boone, NC before he broke off from the eastern seaboard and was California bound. He was searching for something and though I wanted his companionship I knew he had to head west. His love for skateboarding and his uncanny knack to make people smile with his own was enough to land him smack in the middle of what he was looking for.
Fast forward to now, 20 years later and I still admire the drive, dream, compassion and dedication he wove through this fabric of life. As I write this I'm looking over at the chair he sat in and spent an evening with Anna and I just catching up with our stories before the drive up the coast to Mendocino for what would be my final days spent with a friend I adored immensely.
Happy Birthday Ryan (Dewapples),
I can hear your loud whistle from the Heavens!
You'll always be with us,
our brother forever...
I love you,
Terry Egan: When Ryan moved back east from California to the east coast around 2010 or so, it was right around the time Lilly and Fionn (the kids) were born. They were just beginning to grow up but we used to take them on walks thru Crows Woods with Lumpy and LuLu (the dogs) and Ryan would come along whenever he could. One day we were walking along the wide path close to the train tracks when we saw a hawk swoop down to snatch a squirrel and quickly make its way off with it in its talons. Fionn and Lilly were both shocked and upset, asking me what had happened and why. Not thinking because I was still processing it, I mumbled something about the hawk wanted to eat lunch. That just made it worse but right before the crying started, Ryan told them “he’s giving the squirrel a ride to his house, his house is right up there in those trees” while pointing off in the distance as the hawk flew away with his prey. I started laughing and said, “Thanks Ry, that’s what I was trying to say”. Another great save by DeWitt, like in that video where he’s doing the hockey goalie moves.
John Lacy: I wish I could have created, dug up, and put together everything this amazing friend meant to me. However; that is just impossible as most my thoughts are deep in my mind, heart, and soul.
When I got this email from you I checked out all of my old videos and photos, and it just made me so happy to think again of my best friend. What brings it all together, is this picture of Ryan with my girls Isabelle and Madison. He was their Uncle Ryan and they loved seeing him visit and learn about what friendship was all about with their dad and his buddy...
Greg DeWitt: The last time we went fishing together, after Ryan had left Jersey to move back to Cali again but was home for a visit, we took a boat out on the lake in Alloway. Neither one of us caught a single fish the whole day. But while we were out floating by that little peninsula we saw all this disturbed dirt near the lake’s shore. Ryan’s best guess on what that meant was that it was a fox hole. A couple weeks later he went back to Cali and I was out there canoeing solo. Went floating by that same spot and all the sudden two baby foxes come barreling out of the hole up onto the sand, play-fighting, rolling around with each other. Then their mother comes out of the woods to join them while I’m watching. After I brought the canoe back, I called Ryan on the ride home to tell him. When I did he got all excited and blurts out “YES!!! Still got it!”, then we both immediately started cracking up laughing.
Happy Birthday, Ryan. Wherever you may be, I’m sure you’ve still got it. Hope you enjoy looking thru all this stuff, both happy and embarrassed, while laughing hard.